Top 10 Must-Experience Festivals Before You Die

    Top 10 Must-Experience Festivals Before You Die


    By Kimberly Dijkstra


    Some holidays are observed quietly at home, and some are celebrated with 100,000 of your closest friends, give or take. When you’re ready to take the party to the streets, attend one of these massive festivals that take place all throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico. In fact, put them all on your bucket list!


    Here are the top 10 must-experience festivals in North America — before you die.


    Mardi Gras — New Orleans, LA


    Nothing like a big party to kick off the season of Epiphany, a period of feasting and celebration observed by Christians. Mardi Gras, which is French for Fat Tuesday, is a day of revelry, with the biggest parade taking place in New Orleans, Louisiana, in late February or early March. 


    Participants dress in costumes and decorative masks of purple, green, and gold. Float riders toss trinkets into the cheering crowds that line the streets, including sparkly beads and medallions. 


    The carnival atmosphere never stops and the festivities get wild, day and night, with live music, street parties, and a variety of events centered on Bourbon Street and around the French Quarter. Book your trip as far in advance as possible because Mardi Gras draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city. 


    Macy’s 4th of July — New York, NY


    Every Fourth of July the New York City skyline is illuminated by a light show of bursting colors, with joyous music and high spirits all around. The eye-popping pyrotechnics are televised for home viewers to enjoy on the nation’s Independence Day, but there’s nothing better than seeing it live and in person.


    Millions gather in the streets, on the rooftops of buildings, and along the waterfront in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan to get a glimpse of the spectacular fireworks show. No tickets are required, but you’ll want to stake out your spot early to get the best view.


    Calle Ocho Music Festival — Miami, FL


    Every March more than one million visitors flock to the Calle Ocho Music Festival in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Florida. The free street festival is one of the largest in the world and it showcases Pan-American culture through Latin music, international food, dancing, art, and entertainment for all ages. 


    Part of Carnaval Miami, Calle Ocho spans 20 blocks and 10 stages featuring the most popular musicians. The festival is an economic powerhouse for the area and proceeds benefit the Kiwanis of Little Havana Foundation, funding scholarships and other worthwhile causes. 


    Big fun and good for the community – No te lo pierdas! Don’t miss it!


    Sturgis Motorcycle Rally — Sturgis, SD


    Against the backdrop of the Black Hills of South Dakota, hundreds of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts take part in a 10-day celebration. Attendees enjoy a number of events, including a pub crawl, golf tournaments, a 5K, poker tournaments, a tattoo contest, and a beard & mustache contest. 


    The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally began in 1938 and today generates about $800 million annually for the state and raises funds for local charities. 


    So get your motor running, and head out on the highway! The festivities begin in August. 


    Day of the Dead — Oaxaca, Mexico


    A traditional holiday in Mexico, Día de los Muertos is a joyful celebration of family members and friends who have passed away. The multi-day holiday takes place on November 1 and 2, All Saints Day and All Souls Day respectively. 


    Costumes and decorations of calacas (skeletons) and calaveras (skulls) are found everywhere, and these symbols are depicted in cheerful and entertaining situations to convey that death is a natural part of the human experience. Aztec marigold flowers decorate ofrendas (home altars) and people bring food, drinks, and other gifts to the graves of the deceased and to each other to commemorate the memory of loved ones.


    Though Dia de los Muertos is unrelated to Halloween, some customs are similar, including children in costumes knocking on doors for calaveritas (small gifts of candy or money). 


    In addition to Mexico, Day of the Dead is celebrated throughout Latin America and everywhere with a Latino population, including US cities in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Noche de Altares is a large event in Santa Ana, CA, with beautiful displays of altars. The All Souls Procession is a big gathering in Tucson, AZ, with parade floats and candlelight processions.


    Quebec Winter Carnival — Quebec City, Canada


    One of the largest winter festivals in the world, Carnaval de Québec draws up to a million people to Quebec City to experience the magic. Mascot Bonhomme Carnaval leads daytime and nighttime parades through the upper city, decorated with lights and snow and ice sculptures. 


    There are activities for all ages, including skating, dog sledding, a masquerade ball, outdoor banquets, and general joie de vivre. The traditional drink of the event is caribou, a sweet beverage made up of red wine and whisky. 


    During the annual early February celebration, snow-sculpting contests, an ice canoe race, and even a bikini snow bath event take place, and the famous Ice Hotel is open in the nearby Laurentian mountains.


    See footage from the Carnaval de Quebec at My Son’s List’s Carnaval de Quebec: The Largest Festival in the World, Amazing Vacations: Tour of North America’s Only Ice Hotel, and This Is Insane! Partiers Take A Snow Bath in Bikinis and Trunks at Quebec’s Winter Carinval.


    Caribana — Toronto, Canada


    A massive festival of Caribbean culture and traditions, Caribana is held every summer in Toronto, Ontario. It is considered North America’s largest street festival, with up to 2 million people in attendance. 


    The multi-week festival begins in July, with the grand Parade of Bands occurring in August. Visitors will find costumed musicians on floats playing Caribbean music, including steel pan, soca, calypso, dancehall, and reggae.


    Art exhibits, theatrical performances, and fashion shows highlight Pan-Caribbean culture, while picnics and parties all over feature Caribbean specialties, such as roti, jerk chicken, and rum cake. 


    With so many visitors expected, it’s essential to book your trip far in advance.


    Burning Man — Black Rock Desert, NV


    Since its humble beginnings in 1986, Burning Man has grown to an event of more than 70,000 participants. Held in Black Rock Desert, Nevada, the event has no specific focus, but attendees are united in pursuit of a creative and connected existence. 


    The ten principles of the multifaceted movement are radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy. 


    Throughout the weeklong event, interactive art installations are on display, plus music, performance art, and guerilla theatre.


    On the second to last night of the festival, which takes place shortly before Labor Day, a large wooden structure known as “the Man” is burned in a hallmark ceremony. On the eighth and final night, the Temple, another major art installation with a new theme each year, is also burned.


    Vancouver Celebration of Light — Vancouver, Canada


    One of the longest running off-shore fireworks competitions in the world, the Celebration of Light takes place over several days in late July in Vancouver, British Columbia. The world watches in awe as dozens of countries compete to have the most spectacular fireworks display.


    The city welcomes more than 1.3 million visitors, who in addition to the fireworks, enjoy sampling the local food, experiencing live music performances, and joining in a feeling of togetherness. What started as a simple competition in 1990, has evolved into a cultural celebration and essential summer activity.


    Run by a not-for-profit society, the Celebration of LIght increases its sustainability initiatives each year to reduce the environmental impact of the event. 


    Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta — Albuquerque, NM


    In early October, more than 500 hot air balloons float through the skies of Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The largest balloon festival in the world, the nine-day event draws around 800,000 guests, or more.


    There’s a special kind of magic watching dozens of massive, colorful hot-air balloons hover above you as the sun goes down. Balloon pilots display their skills in races and competitions, and the Special Shape Rodeo can’t be missed. It is even possible to ride in a balloon if you reserve your place in advance through Rainbow Ryders


    Attending the fiesta also gives you the opportunity to learn more about New Mexico culture, with local musicians and talented dancers performing throughout the week and numerous historical and art exhibitions on display. It is truly a bucket-list experience.



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